CBS News launched “Public Eye” Monday, a blog at www.cbsnews.com designed to “provide greater openness and transparency into the newsgathering process,” according to the network.
Overseeing a three-person staff is Vaughn Ververs, a 36-year-old D.C. insider.
Ververs’ resume includes associate producer in CBS News' political unit in the mid-1990's, deputy press secretary to Pat Buchanan, producer at Fox News and, most recently, editor of political Web site The Hotline.
He describes himself as a curious observer, a "balanced cynic," and a conservative libertarian.
CBS took heavy fire from conservative Republicans for the Dan Rather/National Guard story, with much public self-examination on the network's part ensuing. But the trend toward showing how the journalistic sausage is made is not confined to CBS. CNN’s weekend show, On the Story, for example, is another effort to give viewers a look at the process.
Ververs’ duties—let’s coin him "omblogsman"—include analyzing CBS’ news output and fielding and responding to comments from viewers and readers about the network’s news coverage.
Currently, Public Eye is looking at the ethics of mood music with news stories, the suggestion that CNN was trying to get journalists to emote more, and a CBS News editorial meeting.
Ververs spoke with B&C’s Michael Malone about his watchdog role.
How would you critique CBS’ coverage of Hurricane Katrina?
I think it has been very good. The broadcast networks were criticized early on for not quite having geared up for what they were covering. They didn’t have prime time specials the night that a lot of people thought they should have--there was some criticism on the blogs about that.
We’ve looked at that criticism and in the piece we have up today [http://www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2005/09/12/publiceye/entry835124.shtml]--the conclusion was that the networks and media itself was about a day late in recognizing how big this story was going to be. And the government was a little later than that.
How much interest is there from the general public about what goes on behind the scenes in the news, and how much of this is the media being fascinated with the media?
When you strike up a conversation with somebody and you tell them you work in news, they have an awful lot of questions for you, and an awful lot of observations to make. I think there’s a real desire among the public—they’re looking for places to get their information that they feel comfortable with, that they feel are credible. So I think there is a pretty high level of interest.
Which Web sites do you most rely on?
I visit all the media sites—the Romeneskos, the TV Newsers, the Media Research Center, which is sort of a right-wing media criticism group, and Media Matters, which is their left-wing counterpart.
I try to also look at what else is out there that might not be hitting the radar screen of the mainstream media. I look at a lot of regional newspapers and a lot of blogs: BuzzMachine, Press Think, Daily Koz, Power Line, Little Green Footballs, Talking Points Memo, Captain’s Quarters.
I look at a broad spectrum of what people are talking about out there.